EU Border Security
In the European Parliament, we firmly stand for the freedom of movement as the basic right of each European citizen with promoting fair and efficient asylum systems, protection and integration of immigrants in the local environment.
In 2010, European Union endorsed the freedom of travel without visas for the citizens of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro, a year later two more countries of the former Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania, entered the visa free regime. These were historical days for the citizens of the countries, which were divided by bloody wars in the 90s and are nowadays struggling in the waiting room with the necessary reforms for joining the European Union.
The abolition of visas has been an important step, especially for the young generation and for people with fewer opportunities, not for businessmen, politicians or potential criminals, who have anyway already found their own ways to travel. The step was important for the region on its path towards the European integration.
Years later, we have experienced an increased number of “fake” asylum seekers, especially from Serbia and Macedonia, recently also from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The European institutions have been closely working with the governments of the Western Balkans and they have managed to adopt many additional measures to prevent people from abusing the rules and to respect the limitations of travel.
Lately, in the European Parliament, the suspension of the free visa regime was discussed again, but the mechanism has not (yet) been adopted and the majority of the parliamentarians opposed it. It is important to emphasize that the attempts to reintroduce the visas must never be a tool for collecting political points by certain politicians (especially in countries expecting elections like Germany) and we must be aware of the fact that reintroducing visas would be a huge step backwards.
I have often travelled the region, discussed with people, attended the conferences, spoken with both governmental and non governmental officials and one thing is sure:
there is a great general awareness of what is at stake and no one wants to see that visa free travel should be jeopardized. It would be a big blow for the integration of those countries into the EU and a big blow for the credibility of European Union, too, if we are not able to help the asylum applicants from our direct neighbourhood; they still present only a much smaller percentage of overall applicants (from the other countries of the world).
People are in need for better life, but those who abuse the system are often the representatives of minorities, people who live in the edge of their societies.
We have to assure that in the long run we create a safe environment for everyone in need. But we have to assure as well that the asylum systems are fair and efficient. In some countries, such as Austria, Belgium, Luxemburg, the numbers of the asylum seekers from the Western Balkan is successfully reduced by putting the countries that are in the process of EU integration, on the list of the countries of safe origin.
By that means, the procedures are shortened efficiently and people simply stopped travelling to those destinations. Asylum seekers were often misled by certain travel agencies, buying them cheap tickets to the West. That has stopped to a certain extent but further efforts are needed.
The same goes for the improvement of border security and management and prevention of bribing the custom officers on borders, which are becoming increasingly busy pathways. We share our common responsibility. We need to protect the freedom of travel in Europe, we need to fight illegal migration, strengthen the safety of our external borders and enhance our police and management co-operation.
But at the same time we have to promote the sense of solidarity for people in need, assure them protection and share the burden between the Member States. All EU countries have to make some investments to protect their external borders and develop common standards. That is in the interest of the entire Schengen Area.
To assure security for our citizens, to fight against human trafficking and organized crime, drugs and other smugglers, and illegal immigration, but also to protect on the other hand the full abolition of internal border controls. We should never forget that Schengen is a symbol of Europe. It is the most tangible thing for our citizens to understand about our common European project.
Tanja Fajon MEP is Vice-Chair, European Parliament Delegation to the EU-Croatia Joint Parliamentary Committee; and also a Member of the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, and the Special committee on organised crime, corruption and money laundering. She is a Substitute on the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Delegation for relations with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo